Altria Gets Smoking Upgrade From S&P

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It seems as though the U.S. cigarette business may not be on the way out any time soon. Standard & Poor’s has upgraded Altria Group Inc. (NYSE: MO) to a rating of BBB+ from BBB. S&P also assigned a stable outlook in the upgrade. The best news here is that dividend investors likely will now take more confidence that the 5.2% dividend has little to be worried about.

While the brands of Marlboro, Skoal and Copenhagen were talked up, there was really no mention about the rise of e-cigarettes.

Wednesday’s upgrade shows that S&P expects Altria to continue reporting satisfactory profitability. It also talked about high equity and pricing power of the company’s key brands.

All of the long-term ratings, including its corporate credit rating, were raised to BBB in the call. The S&P upgrade also pointed out that Altria has flexibility, pricing power and a solid position from its SAB Miller stake.

As of the end of 2013, Altria’s total outstanding debt was roughly $14.5 billion. Another part of the positive research call is that Altria still owns 27% of SAB Miller, which has a market value of close to $20 billion of its own.

Altria shares were down 0.7% at $36.00 in Wednesday afternoon trading, against a 52-week range of $33.12 to $38.58.

And as far as the dividend, again this should alleviate concerns by some investors that regulation or competition from e-cigarettes will come under fire any time soon. When ratings agencies make upgrades or downgrades, they are making calls that are aimed at accounting for the known data for years into the future.

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